People who obey without question are in the province of the ears

375. The spirits who correspond to the hearing constitute the province of the ear in the Grand Man. They are in simple obedience. They do not reason about things, but believe and do what others tell them. Hence they may be called "obediences." There are many differences among them from the most external to the most internal. They are intimately conjoined with those who belong to the internal sight, but differ from them in having less discernment, and giving as it were a passive assent to them (AC 4653). This second part of AC 4653 appears to indicate a wide range of correspondence from the mere external ear or auricle to the spirit itself, for it is said, "and finally to those that are in the spirit." Thus we have certain ones who correspond to the hearing of the spirit. This is in agreement with what we learn elsewhere of the correspondence between the world of spirits and heaven. Although the spirits indicated as belonging to the province of the ear extend internally as far as the spirit itself, they all follow the introductory indication of being obediences. But No. 4654 suggests that those in simple obedience belong to the
auricles. On the other hand, 4655 states that spirits within the ear were "as it were," simple and obedient.

The importance of the ears for balance is implied in a discussion about dancing

376. The efficient functioning of every organ in the body is the lowest, most mechanical form of obedience, corresponding, presumably, to the higher forms of obedience. There is also a particularly important and beautiful form of bodily obedience which, like hearing, belongs to the province of the ears. To this we are introduced by a conversation with Aristotle. It is clearly a perfectly orderly matter that Aristotle, being in the province of the ear (because he was obedient to his spirit), should be mentioned while Swedenborg is describing the correspondence of the ear. It is to be expected that two such men would discuss philosophical matters of mutual interest. This is sufficient reason for the inclusion of a paragraph (4658:3) about philosophy, analytical science, and the foolishness of trying to think from mere terms instead of from use and "from within." But one may ask, "Why is it that when Swedenborg wished to exemplify the futility of thinking artificially from terms, he chose to
mention the impossibility of a person being able to dance by means of a knowledge of motor fibres and muscles throughout the entire body?" It is a matter of faith to accept the wisdom of the choice, but it becomes a matter of sight when the physiology is known, because the connection with the inner ear is very close. The importance of the semicircular canals of the inner ear for balance is now well known. For those to whom the physiology is not known, the wisdom of the Lord's choice is hidden. It is in keeping with its arcane quality that no mention of the semicircular canals seems to be made in the Writings, except as a mere item in the list given in AC 4653:2. (The Latin is translated "cylinders" in my edition (Swedenborg Society 1922), but "canals" in another.) I can find nothing more about them and no reference to them in other indices of the Writings that are readily available to me, nor in Potts' Concordance (Potts, 1888). Yet their importance for normal bodily life, and especially for dancing, cannot be exaggerated. Their connections through the cerebellum and brain stem with the rest of the body are like a fantastically
complex, speedy, accurate computer system whereby a dancer is able to execute marvelous rapid complicated evolutions with perfect bodily control. (The eyes help and the cerebrum is certainly concerned when the dance is complicated; but the routine of balance and coping with starting and stopping and changing direction must be largely the responsibility of the cerebellum and its sense organs in the semicircular canals.) This is the reason for the inclusion of such an example in a section of the Writings devoted to the correspondences of the ear. If I add that this again shows that there is much more in the Writings than we think when we first read them, I hope those who had already seen the connection will still share the joy of confirmation. But we must consider a few more details.

377. Aristotle was in the province of the ears because he was obedient. Since the obedience normally mentioned in the Word is obedience to commands we usually assume that the connection with the ears is through the hearing of speech. Thus it might be thought that Aristotle, as an obedient spirit, need not have any connection with the apparatus of balance which is in the inner ear but has nothing to do with hearing. This would mean that the relation to the semicircular canals would be only that of contiguity and not of function. On the other hand, it is obvious that the maintenance of balance is often essential for the preservation of bodily life. Immediate, unquestioning obedience to the sensations derived from the apparatus of balance is often vital. Now the signals that travel along the nerves from the canals are not of a different kind from those that come from the organs of hearing; they merely go to a different part of the brain. Moreover, unlike speech, they require no activity of
the understanding. They can be obeyed more promptly. They are never questioned. Therefore, the whole system by which balance is maintained provides a perfect example of complete, unthinking obedience. Since the system comprises several stages, including some in the cerebellum, it could correspond to many societies of spirits in the province of the ears, for this province is very extensive, as we have already observed (No. 375). However, these societies would all be simple obediences, in contrast to others corresponding to different parts of the body. Perhaps it is because of the essential quality of prompt unquestioning obedience that the ultimate organs of balance (i.e., the vestibule and semicircular canals) are placed in the ear. However, it is not the semicircular canals that are obedient, but the rest of the body that is obedient to them. It is the same with the organ of hearing. Hearing is only the beginning of obedience. The sensation of movement and position is only the beginning of balance. The similarities and differences between the organs of hearing and balance will become clearer when we enter into a little more detail of the anatomy (see No. 383) and return later to an analysis of what constitutes obedience (Nos. 389-392).

378. Senses other than those of the ear are not so firmly wedded to mere obedience. Sight demands much of the understanding. There are, it is true, rapid, thought-free reactions to other senses, such as taste, smell, and touch. There are also reflex actions, but these are usually merely a shrinking from pain or unpleasantness, and not a well-coordinated obedience like that required for balance.

Obedience to the spoken word is not due to connections between the ears and the cerebellum

379. With regard to the relation between hearing and obedience, two statements by John Worcester in Physiological Correspondences (1889) are of special interest. On page 284 we find:

But an important part of the auditory nerve goes directly to the cerebellum, which is the seat of the affections of the life, and of involuntary motion, and there has a tendency to produce immediate impulsive action in response to its impulses.
And later (p. 393):
In studying the sense of hearing, we have seen that it has relation to obedience; and it is interesting to remember that the nerves of the ears, besides their extension to their special convolutions of the cerebrum, send large branches directly to the cerebellum, having thus a tendency to produce prompt and involuntary obedience, as well as voluntary.
380. It is interesting to consider a possible line of thought which may have led to these statements. Apparently, they follow from the relation between the sense of hearing and obedience, and it is possible to develop the ideas as follows: there are a few phrases in the Writings that, taken out of context, might lead one to think that sounds flowing into the ear affect the will immediately. For example, we read "whatever they [celestial angels] hear of Divine things they receive in the will" (AE 14); and "What the angels of the third heaven hear from preachings enters directly into their perception and will" (loc. cit.). Sometimes it seems that perception has very little to do with understanding. For example, "the correspondence of the variations of tone which derive very little from the understanding is with perception" (DW X 5), also "the sounds enter the will and thence the affection" (AE 588e). This is often the case with music, but for our present purposes we are mainly concerned with speech. Therefore a fuller quotation from AE 588 is added:
The reason why to hear, signifies perception from the will of good, and thence obedience, is, that speech enters the ear together with sound, and the truths of speech enter the understanding and thence the thought, and the sounds enter the will and thence the affection.
381. It is taught throughout the Writings that there is a correspondence between hearing or hearkening and obeying, e.g., "they who are obedient and submissive belong to the province of the ear and indeed correspond to the hearing itself" (AC 2542). Since obedience is often a matter of submission of the will, the idea that hearing and the will are closely connected is further strengthened. It is also said (DLW 384) that the cerebellum exists chiefly for the sake of the will.

382. As hearkening means the will must acquiesce in obedience and as the cerebellum is for the sake of the will, it would be of special interest if the ears really were directly connected to the cerebellum. However, such a connection is not supported in a recent edition of Gray's Anatomy. From it we learn that it is not the auditory nerve that leads to the cerebellum but its close companion, the vestibular nerve which leads from a different part of the inner ear. In view of this, the second statement in Worcester about the nerves of the ear is also misleading, though in itself it is correct because the ear as a whole includes the vestibule.[20] A brief outline of the appropriate anatomy will clarify the matter.

  The Inner Ear

            View from the front showing separate fibers from the vestibule, which is involved with balance, and the cochlea, the organ of hearing, combining into the vestibulocochle-ar nerve. The tympanic membrane (eardrum) is shown, but the ossicles, (bones which transmit vibrations from the eardrum to the cochlea), are not. Although the cavities of the
vestibule and cochlea communicate as shown, the nerves from them do not (see text). The shapes outlined in the diagram do not exist independently of the skull, but are cavities in the bones at the side of the head, and they are very small. Within the cavities is the membranous labyrinth which appears as though it might be a sort of lining to the bony labyrinth, but it is much narrower and it contains a fluid which is different from that outside it in the bony labyrinth. 

Sources: Redrawn from Wilson, Human Anatomy, fig. 12-42; Anthony and Kolthoff, Textbook of Anatomy and Physiology, figs. 10-19,10-20,10-21.


It is not the organ of hearing that is connected to the cerebellum but the organ of orientation in the inner ear

383. The inner ear consists of two distinct parts, the cochlea and the vestibule with its semicircular canals. The former, shaped like the spiral of a snail shell, is the organ of hearing, and the latter are organs of balance which are sensitive to position and acceleration. See Figure 22 showing the inner ear. In each ear, there are three semicircular canals in three planes approximately perpendicular to one another. In spite of their name, each forms about two thirds of a circle, and the ends come together in the vestibule. This gives its name to the nerve which conveys impulses from the canals and the vestibule towards the brain. Thus it is known as the vestibular nerve. It originates in the vestibular ganglion which occupies an adjacent cavity in the bone of the skull. The cochlear or auditory nerve has a quite separate origin in the cochlear ganglion which occupies a hollow space in the central pillar of the spiral bone of the cochlea. After leaving their special organs, the vestibular and cochlear nerves travel so closely together through one passage in the skull towards the brain that they have become known by one name: the vestibulocochlear nerve. On arrival at the brain, they separate again and end in different relay stations (see No. 368 for the meaning and function of relay stations). Impulses from the vestibule pass along the vestibular nerve, most of the fibres of which end in one or another of four relay stations which are different from those of the cochlear nerve (see No. 370). The rest of the fibres of the vestibular nerve do actually lead directly to the cerebellum (unlike those of the cochlear nerve). Controlling fibres also pass in the reverse direction to the vestibular relay stations. In response to signals from the vestibular system, the cerebellum sends impulses to many nerve centres which activate muscles in various parts of the body. Besides this, some of the relay stations on the vestibular route directly activate other centres which control muscles of the eyes, neck, and other parts of the body so that the total effect enables one to keep his balance automatically. These are the reflex mechanisms by which we maintain bodily equilibrium through instantaneous adjustments without thought. It must be added, however, that the eyes also help in maintaining balance.

Obedience to speech cannot take place without the understanding

384. We have seen (No. 383) that the immediate connection between the ears and the cerebellum does produce "prompt and involuntary obedience" to the impulses from the vestibular system, though not to those from the organ of hearing. Besides the lack of direct connection, there is another reason why involuntary obedience to spoken words could not normally take place. It is because the meaning of the words of the command must first be understood. One would expect such a complex activity of the intelligence to require participation of a considerable area of the cerebral cortex. Indeed various cortical areas are believed to be involved in the numerous activities related to language, including speaking and listening. Clearly obedience is by no means an automatic response of the cerebellum, nor is it usually a mere response of the will independently of the intellect. The Writings make it clear that the understanding is often involved. For example, in AE 14, besides the phrases already quoted we read, "things which enter by hearing enter directly by the understanding into the will" (emphasis added). The wording is
notable. Perhaps it means not directly into the will but through the understanding. However, we are not accustomed to finding "by" in the Writings if "through" is meant. Moreover, from the way the brain is constructed, it could mean that the cerebrum is able to influence the cerebellum causing it to respond in an appropriate way to nerve impulses from the ears; or that the understanding can influence the will in its response to sounds. (The love perceived in a tone of voice may be genuine or feigned.)

385. In view of other statements the word "directly" is probably used to mean that the information is not first filed away in a long-term memory. Apart from a few phrases, such as those mentioned above, none of the many passages relating hearing to obedience indicates that it is by a direct influence on the will. Understanding or perception is always a prerequisite, except for the most external kinds of spirit who correspond to the external ear or to skins. These do what other spirits tell them (AC 4654), and some do not even reflect upon the meaning of things that are told them (AC 4656, and SD 2667). Perhaps, since spiritual language is "thought speaking," such obedient spirits do not even need to "translate" words into ideas but merely accept the ideas and act upon them.

Speech stimulates the internal sight

386. An example of the translation of speech into visual memories was given above (No. 373). Except for the most external kinds of spirit mentioned just above (No. 385), it is clear that hearing requires the attention of the understanding. For example, we find: "natural hearing [is] from a spiritual hearing which is attention of the understanding and at the same time accommodation of the will" (CL 220). So hearing involves the following: receiving in the memory, being instructed, receiving with the understanding and believing, and finally receiving in obedience and doing (AC 9311). We also read that "to hear" signifies to perceive, understand, and have faith, and "to do" signifies to live according thereto. "But where hearing is spoken of, and not at the same time doing, then 'hearing' signifies faith in will and act, thus obedience." The reason is that "what is heard passes into the internal sight, which is that of the understanding, and is there received by the will, and passes as by a circle into
act" (AC 8361, emphasis added).

Spiritually considered, the translation of speech into images is a simple matter

387. We draw this conclusion from what is said about spirits whose rational faculty leaves something to be desired. Of some we read (AC 4658) that they had studied logic and metaphysics solely for the sake of reputation and money and were therefore miserable. It is at first surprising to find that they belong to the interiors of the ear and "have the sight of the interior hearing…who obey the things that its spirit there dictates and give fit utterance to its dictates." But as there is a spirit whom they must obey it seems possible that they are merely servants and "belong" to the interiors in no other way than a servant belongs to a household. However, it is also worth remembering again that, as Worcester points out, "these descriptions seem all to be taken from the Christian heaven before the Last Judgment, thus during the process of its formation and purification from evil spirits. The Ancient heavens would be described very differently, and likewise the Christian heaven now that it is in order" (p. 403).

388. In acquiring learning merely for honours and wealth, the spirits we are considering had not perfected their Rational, and it is interesting to notice how easily these few hints about their character enable us to understand their role. Having no genuine Rational (which is the faculty of perceiving truth), the best such learned men could achieve was to be obedient to the truth that was told them (perhaps even forced upon them?). One assumes that as educated men they were able, once they had submitted, to understand the truth more clearly than the less learned, and that by virtue of this understanding they had some relationship to sight. Since they were unable to discern the truth for themselves, however, the best they could do was to obey, hence their connection with hearing as well as sight, and hence their possession of "the sight of the interior hearing" and their ability to serve its spirit.

The province of the ears is very extensive because obedience involves the whole personality

389. The symbolic representation of obedience by the hearing is easy to understand, for it is largely by the aid of the ears that children first learn what orders and obedience mean. Experience shows that the disobedient are often unwilling to hear. We have seen that the vestibular system (including the cerebellum) induces obedience of the rest of the body to its demands (Nos. 377, 383), and that the hearing is different, so that the living, correspondential and causative relation between obedience and the ears is not so readily apprehended. It is here that AC 4653:2 provides a lead, for, as we have noted, it indicates an extension of the province of the ear in a long series from the most external to the most internal part, suggesting the following train of thought.

390. The ear itself is not obedient, except in faithfully rendering the sounds that impinge upon it into corresponding nerve impulses. It appears that the faithful performance of duty or function is not the meaning of obedience, because many parts of the body that do not correspond to obedience perform their functions efficiently. The drum of the ear is not more obedient than the cornea of the eye, nor the stirrup and anvil than the taste buds of the tongue. The nerves from the ear and those parts of the brain with which they communicate are not obedient either, except in faithfully interpreting the trains of nerve impulses into words. A still more internal part has the sight of the understanding and this also is limited in its response. It can only present the meaning of the words. When the will sees this meaning in the understanding, it perceives, with the aid of the understanding how its own love or its love for the speaker can be furthered. Only then can obedience to the spoken words follow.
    Obedience from fear is similarly produced; the love may be self love or love for another. Thus it is not the efficient performance of duty that constitutes true obedience, but the loving acceptance of the will of another. This must be the reason why the province of the ear which corresponds to obedience extends so far inwards.

391. These thoughts show that obedience is a function of will and understanding together, that is, of the whole man. Yet we gather that there are simple spirits who merely do what they are told, and certain ones who correspond to the different little organs of which the inner ear is made. Of these we have said that they cannot be truly obedient, but merely efficient. Perhaps the simple spirits who do as they are told are not capable of more than an automatic response, being 'obedient' in that very limited sense. This, however, would seem to be going too far and making them not really human. It is, perhaps, more acceptable to remember that even these simple spirits have their own complete personality and free will. Because of their obedient nature, that is, their willingness to serve from love, they find their own particular place somewhere in the great extent of the province of the ear. It is important to bear in mind the living nature of the Grand Man, and hence the life derived into the
body. The ear is not like a microphone at all. The drum, for example, is skin, but not mere skin. It is a sheet of several layers containing living cells. Each cell has a full complement of DNA and thus, theoretically has the potential required for developing into a complete human body. So, in the Grand Man, the life of the Lord is fully present in His own special way in every angel.

392. From these things we see how important it is to respect the obedient. After the glorious things related of the correspondence of the eye it seems strange that the province of the ear should be "in the axis of heaven" (AE 14). We see how far internally the province extends; we realize that the life of the Lord is fully present in each individual of that province, and remember that true obedience is from love. Then we can respect, admire, and possibly emulate those of this province. 

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20 In spite of this criticism, I think Worcester's book is in many ways an admirable general introduction for the New Church reader. It is, of course, limited to knowledge of its time (1889), but for gross anatomy this is probably adequate. The book contains little of what we now call physiology, most of the descriptions of the body being anatomical. This is, of course, because physiology has developed mostly in this century.